Not in the name of all Muslims

A recent journey to Auschwitz with some 200 leaders from across the Muslim and Arab world, with 10 of the camp’s survivors, was remarkable.

By SAMUEL PISAR
May 1, 2011 22:42
4 minute read.
Auschwitz

Auschwitz 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)

 
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They came to Auschwitz from Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Iran, Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Gabon, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Benin and other Muslim and non-Muslim nations to make it clear that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not speaking in the name of all Muslims when he makes perverse declarations about the Holocaust, calling it a “myth.”

The motley varied assembly that had accepted the Aladdin Project’s invitation to make this journey included Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, Chairman of the 56- nation Organization of Islamic Conference, ministers representing the heads of state of Morocco, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, grand muftis, chief rabbis, cardinals, ayatollahs, and the mayors of 15 cities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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The courageous decision by these Muslim leaders and personalities to join us in Auschwitz came at a time when Iran and its regional allies are stepping up efforts to hijack the leadership of Middle East protests by positing themselves as the vanguard of the anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israeli movement. They have done it before: The revolution that brought down the Shah in 1979 was the work of a diverse, ad hoc coalition of liberals, nationalists, leftists and a wide array of Islamists, but the radical Islamists drove the others away by adopting violently anti- Western and anti-American positions and staging the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran.

TODAY’S EVER-LOUDER anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric coming from Iran must be seen in this context, and Holocaust denial is part of the same strategy. Next month, the Tehran International Book Fair – the largest in the Middle East – will display hundreds of anti-Semitic publications, including the 18th Persian edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the 19th edition of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Tehran has allocated millions of dollars in recent years to export such hate-mongering propaganda to every corner of the Muslim world.

The presence of so many Muslim leaders and personalities in Auschwitz sends a clear message to Tehran: your propaganda isn’t working, not this time. It is crucial, not only for the future of the peoples and nations of the Middle East, but also for the interests of the United States and its allies, that these courageous voices be heard and empowered.

It fell on me, one of the last living survivors of Auschwitz, to address that illustrious assembly amid the ruins of the world’s largest cemetery – a cemetery without tombstones that accounts for one and a half million innocent souls. Many were in tears as I laid out my testimony of what had happened there, through the prism of a direct witness, starting with the fact that among the six million European Jews annihilated by the Nazis, as many as a quarter, including my entire family and all 500 children from my school, perished in the gas chambers whose ruins they had just inspected.

The event quickly became a rare moment of inter-faith solidarity that catalyzed a human, ecumenical dialogue transcending all political, racial and religious strife. Together on those blood-soaked killing grounds, united by the same pain, with the mind-boggling evidence staring us in the face, we meditated not only on the intolerance, hatred and violence of the past, but also on the fanaticism that is inflaming our world again.

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The event was organized by the Aladdin Project, which also works to raise public awareness of the ravages and lessons of the Holocaust, and to oppose all new forms of prejudice, persecution or terror, wherever they may occur. The organization has translated books such as The Diary of Anne Frank and films like Shoah into Arabic, Persian and other languages for people without access to knowledge on the subject, who can now read and download them from the internet. With a multitude of educational and cultural programs and a network of more than 1,000 intellectuals and academics in the Muslim world, the Aladdin Project’s aim is to build bridges, at grassroots levels, between two hostile worlds that do not really know each other.

As I told the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Auschwitz miracle of February 1 revealed a promising new horizon for the future – a “soft power” approach that must be seized and built upon.

May the Aladdin Project light the way to a safer and better future for all the children of Abraham, and all those yearning for freedom, democracy and peace.

The writer, a survivor of Auschwitz, Majdanek and Dachau, is an international lawyer and author of Blood and Hope. For more information on the Aladdin Project, see its website: www.projetaladin.org

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